Category Archives: SoccerLifeBalance

The Power of a Poor Start

RockyMy soccer career started on a team called the Orange Crushers. I didn’t know what “irony” was at seven years old but our name epitomized it. We crushed nothing and it seemed as though our purpose in the league was for us to be crushed by others. My memories of that season are a complete blur except for one game. In one of our final games of the season, we won and I scored. I was so glad when it happened. The other team from town, Blue Bombers, was filled with friends and classmates and they were undefeated. So that lone victory was important for me because I’d received some ribbing at school.  Perhaps that lone victory kept me hanging on despite the poor start to my soccer career.

As the years went on, there was a slow dance that went on between winning and I. One year my team would be a success. The next we were knocked back down a peg. By the time I reached my senior year in high school, I had figured out who I was as a player. I was one of the kids who wouldn’t quit. That was my first year as a complete “success”. Conference and County Championships were the first two real trophies that any of my teams had ever won. As I thought back to that team, I realized that not one player from the Blue Bombers remained. They had all stopped playing soccer or switched to other sports.

Knowing how to lose and not quit or to persevere through tough times are skills that you acquire from a poor start. These skills are invaluable because no one maintains success forever. Using memories of our failures as stepping-stones is the way we make a staircase toward our success. The examples of poor starts are woven throughout the history of the United States. Lincoln, Ford and Carnegie are three that instantly pop to mind but one of my favorites from the present day is Stallone.

When Sylvester Stallone sold the script of Rocky, the studio wanted to make the film but with someone else playing Rocky. At the time he was completely broke and refused a series of offers from the studio for hundreds of thousands of dollars. He stuck to his guns. He knew how to survive and live with failure but he saw this film as his one ticket to ultimate success. So with very long odds, he bet on himself and won. I used to watch the Rocky films regularly when I was in high school. Later I learned just how much the movies mirror Stallone’s life. In Rocky Balboa, Rocky tells his son that life is about “how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward.” My guess is Stallone learned this early and never forgot.

A poor start is not something to be embarrassed about. It is something to be embraced. The power of a poor start comes in the fact that you know where you began is not where you’re going to end. The power of a poor start comes from realizing that failure did not put poison inside you, it put fire inside you. The only negative to a poor start is if you quit and make your start, your end.

It’s ok to start poorly, if you finish strong.


The Sport of the 21st Century

MonroeThe 20th Century of the United States was largely dominated by an industrial economy.  The US rode the wave of the industrial revolution into prominence on the world stage.  Factories flourished thanks to interchangeable parts and largely interchangeable people.  Most workers in the 20th Century were able to earn a substantial living by doing simple repetitive tasks under the orders of their bosses.

In this system, it is no wonder that the sport of the century was Football.  In so many ways, football was representative of the American way.  It was progressive.  Moving forward was success and moving backward was failure.  It mirrored our historical land acquisition with its own “land acquisition”.  The decisions were made by a few bosses and executed by largely  interchangeable people.  The sport was the perfect corollary for the industrial age and both served the country well in their time.

Now that the industrial age has passed and we have moved into what many are calling the “Connection Economy”.  The people who create value in the market place are not interchangeable cogs in a vast machinery.  Cogs can be replaced, automated or outsourced to other countries.  True value in the modern economy is created by an individual whose contributions are irreplaceable and unique.

This change begs for a different representation in sport.  The football model of “run the play” holds little value when the rules of the game change so quickly.  Soccer’s flexibility and subjectivity require that players deal with complex problems and must make individual decisions for the betterment of the collective.  Since each player is a decision maker, principles rather than directives are the dictating forces.  No one person is in control.  Therefore players must learn to control themselves and direct themselves in an uncertain environment.

The beautiful game will become “America’s Game”.  It is just a matter of time.

Can The Next USSF President Undo Trump Damage?

Make American Soccer Great!

The election of a new USSF President is almost upon us.  Although the holder of this post may not be as recognized as the President of the United States, the impact of soccer on the world is not a thing to be discounted.  It has both started and ended violence.  So with this decision looming in the near future, what impact will the new POTUSSF have on the sport and the country at large?

To the general public, the answer would most definitely be “none”.  It is an absurd thought to give this decision anything more than a passing glance on their newsfeed.  This is an organization that specializes in a sport that garners almost complete indifference from most of its populace.  It’s national power would, to the average citizen, rank somewhere around that of the Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts of America.  Mostly kids and adults running around to get medals and club patches.  While that characterization might be accurate on certain levels, it completely discounts several factors that could have a tsunami type affect based on this relative flap of a butterfly’s wing.

Perception Is Reality

It’s often not pretty but the perception of truth often has greater staying power than the actual truth.  At the moment, the United States has an international perception problem.  Regardless of your personal feelings about Donald Trump, his policies or his impact on the United States; he is projecting many of the characteristics most disliked about Americans.  His overall agenda to “Make America Great Again” seems to come with the postscript, “non-Americans watch out.”  Despite being only one man, the President has the dubious responsibility of being a partial personification of what the United States is.  Mr. Trump’s actions, statements and Tweets may be his own but they also belong to all Americans when viewed from afar.

The Butterfly’s Wing

Eight candidates are being considered with varying degrees of experience, personal motive and leadership potential.  While I’ll keep my personal preference on candidates completely out of this, the worst thing that the voters could do in these circumstances would be to elect on celebrity rather than ability.  The reason being that the perception of the USSF and its new President has very real implications in a short period of time.  The selection of the host for the 2026 World Cup will be made on June 13th.  While the North American Triad of the USA, Mexico and Canada may seem like a sure thing when pitted against Morocco, small nations have dealt us unlikely defeat recently (and I won’t bring up Qatar either).

Winning the bid to host the 2026 World Cup is one of the crucial components to a successful Presidency for any of these candidates.  Failure to secure this bid is not just bad for soccer, it is bad for this country.

In the mind of the general citizen of the United State in 2018, the World Cup is nothing more than a soccer tournament.  It’s a fun diversion at best and non-factor for most.  However in an even more interconnected world of 2026, it is a spotlight shining directly onto the United States.  This event gives us the opportunity to be gracious hosts to the world.  While seemingly trivial from the inside, this role could be crucial to change an international perception of a nation that exports entertainment and soldiers under a leader of singular self-interest.  As news becomes more dependent on the “man on the street”, it is conceivable (if not) probable that brand America’s reputation in the remote corners of the world will depend on the personal experiences of a group of soccer fans supporting their team in egocentric America.

Stirring the Melting Pot

In addition to the World Cup bid, the new President will at the very least have an influence over the involvement of Hispanic communities in US soccer.  The recent loss of Jonathan Gonzalez to the Mexican National Team system is not so much a loss of talent but a loss of contact.  The roots of many Hispanic Americans in this country run deep.  US history is so inextricably intertwined with that of Hispanic heritage that a number of our states and cities have Spanish names (regardless of how we pronounce them).  The involvement of Hispanic players, coaches and fans (or lack thereof) in US soccer will be another key to US soccer counteracting the more pervasive American perceived ethos.

While soccer does not possess the ability to cure all that ails this country, it can be a catalyst for positive change.  The leadership that is selected must realize the importance of this game, not only as a sport but a form of quasi religion that can galvanize the people under its spell.  With this power comes great responsibility, here’s to hoping that the lesser of the two presidents is able to learn from the missteps of the commander in chief.  “Let’s Make American Soccer Great!”

Thanks for reading!


PS – Historically speaking, host nations seem to have a greater likelihood of winning the World Cup.  With young players like Pulisic and Adams being in their mid twenties in 2026, there’s a fighter’s chance.

80’s Hair Band Soccer Logic

PoisonAlthough the 1980’s were memorable for many reasons, the crazy hair is probably one of the most prevalent.  Big hair was all the rage at the time.  Many of the 80’s rock bands invested a lot of time and money on their hair.  Image was almost more important than the music.  I’ve even heard interviews with bands who tried to gain information on the hair products of more successful bands in order to copy their formula.  It’s a silly image isn’t it?  Grown men hanging their hopes of musical success on the type of hairspray that they use.  There is a disconnect that should have been obvious to all involved but sometimes people are too close to the situation to see their own ridiculousness.

A similar phenomena is rampant in the soccer world and a good hard look in the mirror is more than overdue.  Each and every week, millions of kids and adults practice their skills of passing, dribbling, heading and shooting.  Coaches spend hours trying to help these players improve their skills and coalesce the group’s talents into tactics.  Meticulous care is given to all facets of the game including set plays on both the offensive and defensive side.  After hours of preparation, game day finally arrives.  The first whistle blows and that training seems to take a backseat.  It’s overshadowed by telling the one person not displaying any soccer skill about how badly he or she is doing.  The referee takes center stage in a contest that should be focused on the soccer skills of the players.  Much like the hairspray obsessed rock bands, the coaches, players and fans have taken something that should be incidental and made it THE big deal.

Having been a high school and youth coach for years, I’ve seen the lower level of refereeing on display.  While frustrating at times, the arbiter of the game should not overshadow all of the preparation that has been done.  Here are some suggestions that I have to put refereeing in its proper context.

  1. Audit yourself – If more than 25% of the things that you say are directed at the referee, then you’re focused on the wrong thing.  Your players need guidance, your teammates need information, your children need encouragement.  The referee does not need more reminding that you have disagreed with all of his calls.
  2. Walk a mile – Not literally but figuratively.  Get certified and start refereeing some low level games.  Or referee a scrimmage between two teams that you’re not associated with.  Either way the experience will change how you view the job.
  3. Try a new strategy – Rather than berating the next referee that you encounter, try something new.  If you’re a player, in a calm voice during a stoppage, ask him or her to watch for something that has been happening regularly.  “Sir, could you keep an eye out for #15 fouling after the play.  Thanks!”  If you’re a coach, ask the referee to remember a particular foul or incident for discussion later.  If you’re a fan, concentrate on the play of your team.  This is what your team has worked for, see their play.  Otherwise it’s like going to an opera but spending all of your time focused on the conductor’s outfit.  He’s supposed to be invisible.
  4. Recognize the long term – Donuts in small quantities are not by themselves dangerous.  If they are a small part of an otherwise balanced diet, the occasional treat is not harmful.  However constant abuse can be destructive.  The same is true for our refereeing situation.  The constant abuse of referees has led to a shortage that eventually could cripple the game.  That position has to be held by a human.  Who would sign up for the pervasive abuse that referees receive?

So as you prepare for this weekend’s contest, make a decision to focus on the game rather than the official.  After over 35 years of playing and coaching there are exactly two things that I’m sure of:  1.  All referees make mistakes.  2. They don’t get better or change their calls because you tell them that they suck.  For the love of the game, let’s all try to do better out there.  The hair bands can look back and be amused.  Let’s not all look back and be ashamed.


It’s a bit older now but still a good message from the English FA.

I’d Bench Pele IF…

PeleTalent is coveted, scouted, poached and revered in this country.  It often comes with an extremely high price tag.  That price is monetary in the professional ranks.  However at the lower levels, the price of talent is far too often the possibility of teamwork.  At times this comes from jealousy of teammates.  Unfortunately it is more frequently a result of trading team ethos for star power.  It may get results but are they the right ones and for how long?

I’ve often told my teams that “I’d bench Pele if his play didn’t make us a better team.”  Now I’ve never had the pleasure of coaching the Brazilian star (nor would he need me) but that statement has usually followed the benching of a talented player for putting him/herself above the team.  The unfortunate thought that is going through several people’s heads at the moment is that “a great player always makes a team better.”  How I wish that were true but I know that it is not.

Talent does not exist in a vacuum.  It comes attached to a person who has a narrative inside of his/her head about what their talent means.  For some it makes them a large gear in the machine of the team.  While others tell themselves a story that the team is “nothing” without them.  In my preferred sport of soccer, I’ve never seen this to be true but I know it has been thought.

The key to a coach extinguishing this narrative is to swallow the hard pills at the right times.  Recognizing when a talented player has forgotten they are part of a whole and have them sit to consider that point.  Knowing when a player has “outgrown” a team and let their talent go.  These are the types of decisions that are good for the long term of the team and the player but difficult in the moment.

The stories that we tell ourselves are important.  They frame the world into a model that makes sense out of our personal experience of the world.  There are billions of stories going on around the world.  My personal belief is that the accuracy of the story is not as important as the helpfulness of the story.  I started off by saying that I’d bench Pele…  I’m never going to be put in that position but it frames a belief system in a way that leaves no doubt to my conviction.  So as you go into your day, what’s your story?  Is the world out to get you?  Are your best days behind you?  Are you the world’s best student?  Is this your breakout year?  It’s only a story and you can keep it if you want to but put it to my test, does it help?

Go add to your story today!